The Wild, Wild Planet / The Galaxy Criminals / Criminals of the Galaxy / I Criminali della Galassia (1965) **½
No, it’s not a nature documentary. Rather, The Wild, Wild Planet/I Criminali della Galassia marks our first foray into one of the relatively few remaining plots of virgin cinematic territory here at 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting, Italian sci-fi of the 1960’s. Ah, the 60’s... the last decade when it was simply assumed that the world of the future was going to be better than the one we live in now. Whereas sci-fi from subsequent eras tended to imagine a future world dominated by soul-destroying totalitarian governments and globe-sprawling mega-corporations with evil agendas, or alternately, one in which civilization as we know it has collapsed under the strain of war, disease, ecological devastation, or sheer entropy, the 60’s offered a vision of times to come that was not only far more optimistic than what would come after it, but in many ways far more desirable than the future we actually ended up with. Sure, the performing arts were going to become extraordinarily lame and music was going to suck major ass, but everything else in the world was going to be simply swell. Cars would be powered by gas turbines, and most of them would be capable of flight. Cities were going to be clean and shiny without becoming oppressively sterile and antiseptic. Space travel was going to be as cheap and readily available as air travel is today, but it would be far more efficient (nobody in The Wild, Wild Planet sits for an hour and a half in baggage claim only to discover that their suitcase has wound up on Venus by mistake), and there were going to be colonies of human beings living on virtually every respectably sized solid body in the solar system— looking to take a vacation on Titan? No problem! Humanity itself was going to be similarly perfected. Something approaching world peace was going to reign from one pole to the other, but men were still going to be dashing and virile and suave, and don’t even get me started about the women! Actually, scratch that— you go right ahead and get me started about the women, because this is an Italian movie we’re going to be talking about, and it was in Italy that the 60’s vision of the Woman of the Future reached its fullest flowering, attaining a peak of development that not even the Japanese dared imagine. Simply put, women in the future were going to be impossibly sexy. Every damned one of them was going to be built like Diana Rigg, have the brainpower to hotwire a rocketship in 30 seconds or less (an attribute which they would puzzlingly refrain from using most of the time, to be sure), and think nothing of parading around as a matter of course in outfits that, in today’s world, only Wendy O. Williams would have the nerve to wear in public. And at least once or twice every week, a couple dozen such women were going to fly in from some other planet and try to conquer the Earth. This was maybe the biggest improvement over the way things had worked in the 50’s. I mean, really— who would you rather have trying to take over the world, sexy space ladies in vinyl go-go boots or wrinkly, cyclopean hunchbacks with suction cups on the ends of their fingers? Yeah— so we’re definitely on the same page here.
Rest assured that the expected posse of gorgeous girls in go-go boots will be putting in an appearance in The Wild, Wild Planet, but first let’s have a quick look at the world they’ll be working to conquer. In a remarkable departure from the typical 60’s formula, the Earth as imagined by screenwriters Ivan Reiner and Renato Moretti is indeed ruled by transnational corporations, and there’s some immediately obvious evidence that at least one of them is evil. Aboard one of those donut-shaped space stations the makers of these movies loved so much, Commander Mike Halstead (Tony Russel, from Knights of Terror and The Invincible Seven) is receiving a visit from a high-ranking representative of that corporation, surgeon/biochemist Dr. Nurmi (Massimo Serato, of Killer Nun and The Loves of Hercules). Nurmi’s corporation is the aptly-named Chembiomed, and he and his staff have set up a small laboratory on the station in order to conduct experiments in what might be called organ cultivation. Transplants, or so says Dr. Nurmi, are the wave of the future, and in order to meet the coming demand for replacement parts, it will be necessary to mass-produce new organs and tissues in the full range of blood types, Rh-factors, etc.; harvesting the organs of the dead simply won’t be enough anymore. Halstead isn’t so sure he likes the idea of a world peopled with Frankenstein monsters, and he knows he doesn’t like having a ghoulish laboratory full of disembodied lungs and kidneys marring the pristine orderliness of his gleaming space donut, but corporation execs outrank military leaders, and there’s really nothing he can do about it. But as Halstead soon learns, there’s something he likes even less than Nurmi, his agenda, and his lab: the doctor’s transparent efforts to get with Halstead’s scorching hot girlfriend, Lieutenant Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastoni, from Messalina vs. the Son of Hercules, whose beauty had faded only slightly by the time she made Submission eleven years later). As is so often the case with the bad guys, Dr. Nurmi is one smooth motherfucker, and he wastes no time taking advantage of Gomez’s thinly veiled dissatisfaction with her current man’s all-business-all-the-time demeanor. Nurmi invites her to come with him for a vacation at a secret hot spot open only to Chembiomed employees— and to do so on the corporation’s dime, at that! Connie resists at first, but when Halstead accuses her of drinking too much when the three of them are relaxing together in the station’s lounge, the inebriated Lieutenant Gomez reverses herself and pointedly announces that she’s going with Nurmi after all.
Well, as if Halstead’s girl troubles weren’t enough to keep him distracted from the day-to-day business of running the station, he soon gets a call from Earth asking him to head a newly created special police force, intended specifically to deal with an emerging situation that has proven entirely beyond the powers of the regular law enforcement agencies to control. All throughout the United Democracies, people by the thousands are disappearing without a trace. The general who proposed this measure (Enzo Fiermonte, from The Triumph of Hercules, whom we’ll be seeing again in different roles in all of this movie’s sequels) doesn’t realize this yet, of course, but we’ve just had our first brush with The Wild, Wild Planet’s world-conquering space ladies. Acting in tandem with an army of identical trenchcoat-clad zombie men, these women have been roaming all over the UD, shrinking people down to doll size and taking them back to wherever it is they come from in little metal boxes. What finally gets the terrestrial authorities looking in the right direction is a pair of failed abduction attempts. One, on Commander Halstead’s own nephew, is foiled when the boy’s mother spies the would-be kidnappers from her kitchen window and raises a ruckus. The other also fails due to interruption. Someone blunders onto the scene while the zombie man is halfway finished shrinking a brilliant and important scientist; the professor ends up as a midget rather than a living doll, and the zombie’s space chick overseer is forced to disintegrate her partner in order to cover her tracks. Subsequent screw-ups on the kidnappers’ parts bring Halstead into possession of a briefcase full of miniaturized victims, several lists of abduction targets, a dead zombie man, and three of the women themselves. Imagine everybody’s surprise when the zombie turns out to have four fucking arms! Now that isn’t the kind of thing you run across every day, and once the medical examiner tells Halstead and his two lieutenants, Ken (Carlo Giustini) and Jake (Spaghetti Western star Franco Nero, whom we’ve also seen before in Submission), that those arms got there via a hyper-advanced tissue graft, the military types start thinking about that Chembiomed lab back on the space station. Not only that, the same toponym keeps coming up again and again in the testimony of the captured abductors and the papers that were seized with them: Delphus. Delphus is the artificial planet where Chembiomed conducts the bulk of its most sensitive research; it’s also the place where Nurmi took Connie for her vacation. And if you think shrinking people and building four-armed zombie hit men sounds like dirty pool, you won’t believe what Nurmi and his pals have in store for Connie.
Once you get past the distinctly wacky 60’s-style production design (rayguns that are really just cleverly disguised oxyacetylene torches— wow), the thing that’ll probably stand out the most about The Wild, Wild Planet is the fact that it doesn’t make any goddamned sense. I’ll accept Dr. Nurmi’s utterly demented plans; I’ll also make the inference that all those sexy women who serve as his agents in the field are recruited from the population of “perfected” humans he’s been making on Delphus along with the multi-appendaged zombies, and that he’s been using the captives he sends them out to take as raw materials for building more of their sort. Where I start scratching my head is the point at which we reach the question of why Chembiomed is letting one of its employees tie up an untold fortune in company resources to work on some cockamamie project with no obvious commercial value. I mean, this is a corporation we’re dealing with. The zombie factory could maybe turn a profit in the event that slave labor comes back into vogue, but it’s really just a sideline on a much larger scheme. Meanwhile, there’s no indication that Nurmi’s bio-engineered, kung fu-mistress secret agent chicks (apparently the true focus of his work) are any more inclined to buy stuff from Chembiomed than anybody else. The company thus stands to gain absolutely nothing from Nurmi’s pet project (especially when it comes to his Connie-related plans), on which its leadership nevertheless allows him to spend butt-loads of time and money. Nonsensical or not, though, much of The Wild, Wild Planet is a fat lot of fun, and it’s hard to fault it too seriously for its lapses in logic. And if I can be said to have learned anything from the experience of watching this movie, it’s that I need to start looking for more Italian sci-fi of its vintage.